Because traveling is also a solitary activity
By Catherine Orda | Art by Marian Hukom
“Can you name a book? Any book?”
Unsuspecting pedestrians were asked these questions in a segment from an American late-night talk show, and as was perhaps suspected by the host and the live audience, almost none of the passersby could name a single book.
The clip paints a picture of a society on its way towards an intellectual decline—that’s the easy diagnosis. But I’d like to think of that video as nothing more than a product of clever editing. Why cut out all the people who probably had no trouble naming a book?
A 2018 survey from the Pew Research Center shows that while digital formats like audiobooks and e-books are steadily gaining a larger audience, print books remain to be the most popular format for reading, with about 67 percent of the surveyed participants reporting to have read at least one book in the last 12 months. Reading books isn’t some lost art reserved for homebodies. Here are a few good examples you can pick up to inspire your next adventure:
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Plot: In 1992, a well-off young man named Christopher McCandless set off to travel alone into the wilderness of Mt. McKinley. His pre-travel rituals included giving $25,000 to charity, abandoning most of his possessions (including his car), and burning all the cash in his wallet. Unfortunately, though, McCandless’ story ends in tragedy.
“You really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt… the very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
The Pitch: This nonfiction book, which Krakauer had written as an extension of McCandless’ 9,000-word account of his fearless Alaskan odyssey, is one of the century’s most compelling meditations on mankind’s complicated relationship with and liberation from materialism. An interesting subject to carry around in your next hike in, say, Mount Apo.
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Plot: Two friends, Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, go on a years-long road trip back and forth across the country where they meet eccentric characters. Unending hitchhiking escapades, bus rides, and drunken ramblings about freedom and rebellion punctuate this otherwise plot-less story that is considered to be essential reading.
“…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
The Pitch: This classic novel has cemented Kerouac’s reputation as not only one of the pioneers of the Beat generation, but more importantly as a spokesperson against modern life weariness. Though the story of Sal and Dean is heavily laden with drugs, booze, and bad choices, it’s still a fascinating commentary on freedom’s costs and limits. In other words, it’s the perfect (and inadvertent) guide on what not to do during your next road trip with friends. As to a great road trip destination, we recommend the province of Rizal. It’s an underrated site populated by various mountains, caves, and waterfalls—and it’s only a three-hour drive away from Manila.
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
The Plot: In 1995, the American author Cheryl Strayed went on a 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail as part of her “journey towards self-discovery.” Strayed was a novice hiker then, and her hike only proved to be even more epic because of that and the fact that she had to face bears, arduous temperatures, rattlesnakes, and failed waterholes.
“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.”
The Pitch: This memoir reached No. 1 on The New York Times Best Seller list and was adapted for the screen in 2014. Despite its commercial success, we’d all be remiss to dismiss this book as something that was written in the same vein as the unfortunate Eat Pray Love. It’s a well-written story that’s equal parts brave and introspective—the perfect companion for beautiful landscape walks.
Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn
The Plot: This memoir chronicles Gellhorn’s globe-spanning adventures, which include a week spent with rebels in Moscow, bonding with hippies at Eilat on the Red Sea, and journeying by sampan and horse to the interior of China during the Sino-Japanese War.
“It is high time that I learn to be more careful about hope, a reckless emotion for travelers. The sensible approach would be to expect the worst, the very worst; that way you avoid grievous disappointment and who knows, with a tiny bit of luck, you might even have a moderately pleasant surprise, like the difference between hell and purgatory.”
The Pitch: Gellhorn is arguably best known for her marriage to Ernest Hemingway, which is unfortunate since she’s more importantly a prolific travel writer and a war correspondent. This travel memoir stands out among its kind because of its author’s razor-sharp wit and intellect. It is, by a long mile, one of the few funny and entertaining books about travel and war. A book to remind you that ingeniousness and an original perspective are valuable travel companions.
Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit
The Plot: This book doesn’t actually have a plot. It’s a fascinating philosophical narrative driven by Solnit’s theory that walking is the only state in which the mind, body, and the world are aligned. The author talks about walking as evidence of human evolution, and, by doing so, gets to the bottom of a simple and seemingly low-stake question: Why do we take walks?
“Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors… disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected, for while walking one occupies the spaces between those interiors in the same way one occupies those interiors. One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it”
The Pitch: Unlike the previous authors on this list, Solnit is an academic best known for her writings on feminism and environmentalism, so this work is not—at least by traditional definitions—a travel book. It is, however, the perfect piece of writing to take with you the next time you find yourself questioning the point of those inevitable long walks we all occasionally take.
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